By Army Sgt. Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service
April 11, 2008 - As the United States continues its mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and also works to reduce deployment lengths for servicemembers, leaders must maintain a balance to ensure vital missions are carried out while maintaining the health of the force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. "There's a very delicate balance right now between the needs, and our top mission right now is to deploy troops to Iraq and improve security there," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said on CNN's "American Morning." "After that, we need to focus on both providing troops and capability to Afghanistan, and the third piece of this is the health of the force."
Mullen said shortening the Army's deployment length from 15 months to 12 months, which President Bush announced yesterday, is a significant step forward in reducing stress on the force.
"Our forces, in particular our ground forces, are under tremendous pressure and tremendous stress," Mullen said. "That said, they are also doing exceptionally well. They love what they're doing, they're resilient, and they're making a difference where they're employed."
All military leaders are concerned about the stress on the force, especially the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, Mullen said. About 10 to 15 percent of the Army has been on three or four deployments, he said, and leaders are working to recognize and treat PTSD and other combat-related illnesses.
The United States has had tremendous success in Iraq with the troop surge, Mullen emphasized. Security has improved dramatically, which has allowed U.S. officials to start thinking about future troop withdrawals after the last of the surge brigades leaves Iraq in July, he said. Yesterday, Bush endorsed the recommendation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, to take a 45-day period of evaluation after the last surge brigades leave Iraq in July to determine future troop levels.
The goal for Iraq is still a country that can govern itself, secure itself and provide for its people, Mullen said. Progress has been made toward that end, he said, and the United States is continuing to work with Iraqi security forces to sustain success.
"The security right now is fragile, and it's not irreversible yet; we need to get it to the point where it is," he said.